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'Red Band Society' EP says Fox drama not meant to be a downer

Have some tissues, but not too many! @RedBandSociety EP says Fox drama not meant to be a downer

In "Red Band Society," Fox's forthcoming coming-of-age drama, school lockers and hallway rivalries are traded in for IV bags and nurse supervision.

The series is an adaptation of the popular Spanish series, "Polseres Vermelles." It follows the unlikely friendships of a group of young patients with serious illnesses in the pediatric ward of Los Angeles' Ocean Park Hospital, and the doctors and nurses who care for them.

It joins the recent society of projects exploring young characters with cancer--ABC Family has "Chasing Life" and the big screen had the popular adaptation of bestselling novel "The Fault in Our Stars."

Executive producer Margaret Nagle  ("Boardwalk Empire") and cast members Octavia Spencer, Dave Annabelle, Ciara Bravo and Nolan A. Sotillo gathered at the Landmark Theatre in Westwood for a Q&A following a screening of the pilot episode for fans.

The drama, from Steven Spielberg's Amblin TV, is set to land on Fox in the fall. The following are tidbits for the curious:

Despite some heart-tugging moments, the show is not meant to be a downer or a pity party.  Familiar with the children's hospital environment as a child (her brother having been in a coma), Nagle said she recalled it not as a scary place, but rather "it was a happy place, it was a hilarious place. The nurses and doctors weren't like nurses and doctors in other parts of the hospital." She wanted to show how life goes on inside: "While they're there, they take SATs, they fall in love, they do all the things that [kids] do, and so I wanted to explore that environment too."

Spencer on going from Oscar-winning to TV-trying.  Spencer took home an Oscar for her supporting role in 2011's "The Help." She recently drew headlines when she was tapped to helm NBC's planned reboot of "Murder, She Wrote," but that project got scrapped. Then came "Red Band Society," where she plays strict-but-tender Nurse Jackson--and there was no thought to the size of the screen she'd be on. "I feel incredibly grateful, because even if you do have that little statue, you get some really terrible stuff sent to you," she said. "['Red Band Society'] was the best pilot script I had ever read ... I think Margaret really presented this very complicated subject in this way that you really do take stock of your life, and you really do want to celebrate any time that you have."

On the Mc-Doctor overload: Annabelle plays Dr. McAndrew, a hunky and benevolent physician in the ward. Yes, there's a Mc in that surname. A rip-off the Dr. McSteamies and McDreamies? "We're sort of making fun of it a little bit," Nagle said. "But it's also based on Philomena McAndrew in Los Angeles, she's an incredible oncologist and hematologist; it's sort of a tribute to her. But also we wanted to make fun of ... like, we used the 'Grey's Anatomy' song that they've used a million times. It's just tongue in cheek. But we couldn't help that [Dave] was so handsome."

On creating the home-y hospital: The hospital backdrop is based on the Mattell Children's Hospital and the Daltry/Townshend cancer center, both at UCLA.  Nagle pointed out that Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend of the rock group The Who, started Teen Cancer America, through which they've created teen and young adult cancer units in hospitals from funds gathered through portions of ticket sales and donations. The young patients "set it up like a dorm room, it's [their] home away from home."  The fictional hospital rooms in the show mimic that style, with posters, funky sheets, bright walls, etc.

"My So-Called Life" keeps on giving. It's no coincidence that the pilot of "Red Band Society" features an appearance by Wilson Cruz, who starred in cult favorite "My So-Called Life" as Rickie, as a hospital worker;  and that the heart doctor on the show is named Dr. Holzman, after "My So-Called Life" creator Winnie Holzman. The short-lived 1994 drama is a constant reference in the writers room, Nagle said. It's inspired "RBS" in exploring the idea of "that person that you think you never want to know becomes that person that you realize you can't live without," she said. "It's about making those friendships, and how we make those friendships that make all the difference in our life--and make our life great, because it is about friends. That is where this show lives: how are these people going to learn to love each other. And how they'll be able to live without each other."

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